I'm watching this show on ESPN Classics and it airs every night at 12am. Its the AWA on ESPN. Yep...that ESPN. They the network that has all these serious sport shows and NFL , MLB and Sportscenter actually aired Pro Wrestling. Well they actually aired it three times in their history and all 3 times left em burned to never wanna televise another wrestling product.
Anyhow this is the AWA. The American Wrestling Assocation for you wanting the full name. And its start happened in the 1960's. And to describe the situation for you Non-Wrestling fans (Like Gail , and others) wrestling then was a territory system.
Territories were sections of the country that each promoter had. Well the NWA was the 1st big promotion and Lou Thez would travel and wrestle each promoters 1# challenger for the title. Vince McMahon's father (Vince Sr.) ran the Northeast and MSG. The Crocketts ran the south , Eddie Graham ran Florida....and so on...and so on.
Anyhow Verne Gagne was an impressive NCAA amatuer wrestler and had passed up a NFL career to be a Pro Wrestler. The NWA seeing as how they really didn't want Lou Thez to drop the belt to Gagne , even though the man was massively over in the Mid-West like Chicago etc etc . So Gange went into partners with Wally Karbo and a few others....and started the AWA.
Gagne since he ran the promotion and was marquee attraction became the AWA World Champion. So all thru the 1960's the AWA was carried by Verne . It was his baby of course...
And Verne headed into the 1970's with a loyal cast of wrestlers like "Dick the Bruiser"," Baron Von Rachse" , "The Crusher" and "Nick Bockwinkel". Gagne as the owner held the belt 10 times ...and one title reign lasted over 7 years ! (1968-1975)
Anyhow the 1970's saw many stars come into promotion like Jessie Ventura , Bobby Heenan , and numerous others. The AWA's star rose as more cities picked it up syndication wise and stretched to the pacific nearly in terms of how many watched.
Verne also trained wrestlers and made a hefty fee at one point (according to Ric Flair , Gagne would take money outta your contract for years !) . He helped train men like Flair , Ricky Steamboat and Curt Henning.
And business got even more better when this man walked in the door in 1982.
Hulk Hogan had taken a few years to find himself as a star and had recently done Rocky III . He had tried the wrestling thing for Vince Sr. and it wasn't working out for him. So he gave it one last try and he remembered meeting David Gagne (Verne's son) years earlier and David suggested his dad give Hulk a shot.
The idea for Hulk was to make him a heel. In fact Hogan was gonna become the #1 or #2 heel in the company. But the moment Hulk Hogan walked out on TV the fans went GaGa for the man. The AWA fans who had seen pretty much chubby and overwieght men for years ...had Hulk Hogan ...who looked like he could beat everyone.
And the AWA followed that as Hogan created HULKAMANIA in the AWA. In no time Hulk Hogan became the most POPULAR guy in the company ! The fans wanted....no THEY DEMANDED he get the AWA World title .
By this point Verne himself had gottten old . He had been wrestling nearly 30 years and he really had no business to keep going but you'll notice a trend with old wrestlers , posters of YABS ...they love the business too much to walk away. Anyhow Verne had gotten old...and he only had 1 good business partner he could trust being AWA World Champion now.
Nick and Verne were friends and business partners and Verne liked that Bockwinkel wrestled his style of classic wrestling as well. So not only was the title protected (it was the company's bread & butter) by Bockwinkel being champion and close to Verne , he also had his style of Champion.
Not that Verne didn't want Hulk Hogan as AWA World Champion to carry his company. He just wanted added protection according to Hogan. And that was Verne trying to hook his daughter up with Hogan. Which Hulk shot down ....and when that didn't work the day of the last title shot (and biggest drawing card ever for the AWA ....Hogan was THAT HUGE A DRAW !) he demanded Hogan's Japanese tour money.
Hogan refused and Verne being an idiot reacted by not putting the belt on this hot young draw. The match wasn't anything special but soon enough at the end ...Hogan nailed Bockwinkel ...the fans watched as the referee counted...1....2.....3 and they ERUPTED. They went crazy as Hogan won ...but wait ....out came the usual swerve and Bockwinkel was the champ yet again.
To say fans were pissed is an understatement. There was a near riot. Bockwinkel had to run for his life and this was Verne's start of his downfall. He had lost such touch in the business he lost the golden goose that was Hulkamania....
END OF PART #1 ....Part #2 coming.